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History of the
Settlement and Indian Wars
of Tazewell County, Virginia.

By Geo. W. L. Bickley, M. D. (1852)


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The following article is the substance of a report made by Mr. Rufus Brittain, a competent teacher of this county, to the Jeffersonville Historical Society.  It is so true that no apology is needed here for inserting it.  I presume that few will be found who will dissent from his opinions.

Yes, I fear, few there are, as ready to act as Mr. Brittain.  A thousand reasons might be adduced for properly educating the children of this county, and from signs now becoming visible, it is to be hoped that many years will not elapse before Tazewell will be ranked foremost in this best of causes.  To properly educate the children of the county between the ages of six and twenty years, we need upward of seventy school-houses.  We have now about fifteen, which are better suited for barns than seats of learning.

The increased interest now manifesting itself for the cause of popular education, is mostly among the younger persons.  The present generation must pass away before we can expect a general diffusion of knowledge.

Mr. Brittain says:  "This cause, so important to the best interests of every well-regulated community, has not heretofore, in this section, received that attention it deserves: and as a natural consequence of this neglect, we find the county sadly deficient in the means of training up the children of her citizens for stations of honor and usefulness.

"By the returns of the last census, it is found that out of 3,317 persons in the county over twenty-one years of age, 1490 are unable to read and write.  This is indeed a deplorable picture of the intelligence of our county, and might well cause every intelligent man in it to blush with shame, were it not that we find some excuse for this ignorance when we consider the situation of the greater portion of our population, scattered as it is over a wide extent of country, and laboring under great disadvantages for maintaining schools.

"The early settlers of this region had many difficulties to encounter in their efforts to procure homes for themselves and their children, and too frequently education appears to have been of but secondary importance in their estimation.  Yet primary schools of some sort seem to have been maintained from an early date after its settlement, in those neighborhoods where children were sufficiently numerous to make up a school, and parents were able and willing to support a teacher.  Instances, also, have not been wanting where families not situated so as to unite conveniently with others, yet appreciating the advantages of a good school, have employed teachers to instruct their children at home, and thus afforded them privileges of which the children of their less enlightened neighbors were deprived.  But of later years, since portions of the county have become more densely populated, and in various ways much improved, the cause of education here has not kept pace with that improvement, for even in those parts of the county best able to maintain schools, no permanent provision has been made for their continuance: and in those schools that generally have been best supported, long intervals between sessions so frequently occur, that pupils forget much of what they had acquired during their attendance; and thus the little time spent by many in school is spent under the greatest disadvantage for the proper development of their intellectual faculties.  Teachers, as might be supposed, under these circumstances, together with the fact that their compensation is usually very moderate, are often incompetent for the task they have assumed, both as respects talents and acquired qualifications.  And though under these circumstances good teachers are sometimes obtained, yet most generally in such cases the office is only assumed as an available stepping-stone to some other and more profitable pursuit.  Indeed, it would be unreasonable to expect persons to prepare themselves for the proper discharge of the onerous duties of a primary school-teacher, unless they hoped to receive some adequate reward for their services.

"Now in consideration of the state of our schools, and the deplorable ignorance in which the children of our county are in danger of growing up, it must be evident to all who think properly on these subjects, that we need to adopt and carry out some efficient school system, by means of which, our schools shall be made more permanent, and sufficient inducements be held out to command and retain the services of competent and well qualified teachers: and that the means of a good primary education be brought within the reach of every child in the community, and for those who desire it and excel in the branches taught in primary schools, that opportunities be afforded to acquire a knowledge of the higher branches of a good English and scientific education.

"These important objects, our schools, as now conducted, fail to accomplish, and the state school-fund for the education of indigent children, is in a great measure wasted, as by its regulations, it must depend chiefly on the schools as they now exist.

"But the legislature of the state has provided a Free School System, which if adopted and carried out with proper energy and in an enlightened manner, these noble objects, in a great measure, might be attained.  In order to its adoption the law requires a vote in its favor of two-thirds of the legal votes of the adopting district or county.  Such a vote, we fear, could not be obtained here, until some effort is made to enlighten our citizens on the subject of education and school systems; and show them the advantages that would accrue to themselves and their children by having the latter furnished with the proper means of moral and intellectual culture.  There would also be a variety of difficulties to encounter in the execution of this Free School System.  In some portions of the county the population is quite sparse, and a sufficient number of children could not be included within a convenient school district.  This difficulty, however, has no remedy under our present method of keeping up the schools, unless families thus isolated are able to employ teachers to instruct their children at home.  But if schools were established in these thinly-settled districts, by taking in boundaries large enough to furnish a sufficient number of children to each, and some efforts made to overcome the inconvenience of a distant school, by conveying the children to and from school in such a manner as could best be provided: the mere fact of a good school being kept up, would be a new inducement for persons to emigrate to those districts, and in a few years the population would so much increase that a school could be made up within convenient bounds.  This system, also, being chiefly dependent on funds raised for its support by taxation, might meet with great opposition from those who have a higher appreciation of the value of money than they have of intelligence; and, again, others who are possessed of large amounts of taxable property and few or no children to send to school, may think it oppressive, unless convinced that it is the duty of every state or community to educate, or furnish the means to educate, the children of its citizens.  In a republican government like ours, the permanence of which evidently depends on the virtue and intelligence of its citizens, it might be deemed unnecessary to demonstrate the importance of every child being properly instructed and furnished with the means of acquiring that knowledge which will fit him to perform the duties incumbent of a citizen of a free and enlightened country.  Yet there are too many who are slow to perceive or acknowledge the importance of good schools, and the necessity of being at some trouble and expense to keep them up.  Hence all patriotic and intelligent members of the community who have tasted the blessings of an education, or felt the want of one, should co-operate with each other, and use their influence for the improvement of our schools, and the increase of the virtue and intelligence of our citizens."


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